A Consumer Guide to the Trailing Edge: December, 2010

Recycled Goods (#80)

by Tom Hull

Would have been nice to wind up the year with something marking the year, like one of those old box set surveys from back when I got occasional box sets, or at least something that wrapped up the best-rated/most-hyped reissues of the year -- which, for whatever it's worth, I figure to be Pavement's Quarantine the Past and the Legacy Edition of Iggy & the Stooges' much-reissued Raw Power, with Bob Dylan's The Witmark Demos and Bruce Springsteen's The Promise fresh from the vaults. The Dylan at least I have but have thus far been underwhelmed with, and the others I haven't gotten to. Also haven't come close to scoring my most coveted jazz reissues of the year: Mosaic's big box, The Complete Novus & Columbia Recordings of Henry Threadgill and Air, and Stan Getz/Kenny Barron: People Time: The Complete Recordings (Sunnyside), the 4-CD expansion of Getz's marvelous 2-CD swansong.

But then I also haven't managed to write up some jazz reissues that I do have, like Commitment: The Complete Recordings 1981/1983 (No Business, 2CD) and Wadada Leo Smith's The Blue Mountain's Sun Drummer (a 1986 vault find, on Kabell). Also have some prime African stuff on the shelf that I don't have time for until I wrap up a Jazz CG column. So later for all that. Meanwhile the clock ran out and most of what I have to show for the month is the dregs of Capitol's Apple reissue program. I hit up everything I could find on Rhapsody, following the John Lennon reissues last month. Best thing there is Doris Troy's 1970 album, and it's no better than her 1960s comp. Was sort of curious about those records, as I was with the middle Lennons I had skipped over, and for that matter the George-Paul-Ringos still in the pipeline, but now I know better.

Badfinger: Magic Christian Music (1969 [2010], Captiol): From Wales, originally called the Iveys, replicated the Beatles as formula and got a lot of flack for the imitation and the flattery, although they sound legit enough today -- I'm reminded that when Sonny Stitt was taunted for imitating Bird, he stuck his alto sax in the assailant's face and said, "here, let's see you imitate Bird." Actually, it was just Paul they were following, from the Rigby-ish posh of "Beautiful and Blue" to the soft-shoed Little Richard act of "Rock of All Ages," and their reward was "Come and Get It," a song McCartney wrote for the movie Magic Christian which gave them their first hit and the marketing concept for their non-soundtrack. Scoff if you like, but this is better than most of the albums Paul released in the following decade. And it's grown harder to dismiss the band as opportunists. They were never more than moderately successful, their profits lost and stolen; before long the two key members committed suicide. B+(*) [R]

The Blasting Concept (2001-07 [2009], Smalltown Superjazz): A sampler from a small Norwegian label, one of the few that does what label samplers should do: open your ears to one unexpected pleasure after another, never dwelling too long in one spot, moving through a range of pieces that somehow add up in the end. All the more remarkable given that the subtitle, A Compilation of Avant-Garde, Free Jazz, Noise and Psychedelia is accurate. The free jazz is mostly anchored by drummer Paal Nilssen-Love with one or more hard-blowing saxophonists -- Mats Gustafsson, Peter Brötzmann, Ken Vandermark, and/or Joe McPhee. The saxes make plenty of noise, but nothing like Lasse Marhaug's electronics -- his "Alarmed and Distressed Duckling" would wear you down if it went on much longer but is amazing in a small dose -- and Sonic Youth guitarists Thurston Moore and Jim O'Rourke add their own feedback. Vandermark's clarinet-piano-bass trio, Free Fall, offers a soft but far from simple respite. Psychedelia is in the ear of the behearer, but Massimo Pupillo's bass line drives the Original Silence into ecstasy. I've heard most of these albums, including the Thing's box set, but they all run on. And to think, I've been using this as a paperweight for over a year now, simply because it's heavy, and because label samplers suck. A-

Come and Get It: The Best of Apple Records (1968-73 [2010], Capitol): If the Beatles were bigger than Jesus, it only stood to reason that they could have their way with EMI. So they launched their own label, Apple Records, in 1968, and for a while dabbled in promoting other acts beyond their flagship product. This avoids the collective and former Beatles (not to mention Yoko Ono), although they do slip in covers and soundalikes -- three cuts by their most successful client group, Badfinger (originally the Iveys). Otherwise, a couple of notable singles, a bunch of indifferent crap, and a suppressed novelty, "King of Fuh" by Brute Force (typical lyric, oft repeated: "all hail the Fuh king"). B- [R]

James Taylor (1968 [2010], Capitol): Apple's most successful discovery -- the best would have been Delaney & Bonnie had they bothered to released the album, but Taylor outsold and outlasted them. He led a generation of laid-back singer-songwriters who were rock-identified mostly by generation, and for critics like Lester Bangs he all but personified evil -- a threat that nowadays is so far estranged from reality it's hard to understand why anyone gave a shit. He certainly didn't -- something that even Bangs came to grudgingly respect. First album is tuneful, sloppy, overblown, perverse in ways that remind me of Paul McCartney although it was produced by Peter Asher, on his way to becoming the Mitch Miller of the 1970s. B- [R]

Briefly Noted

Badfinger: No Dice (1970 [2010], Capitol): Their best-selling album reveals them to be a remarkably ordinary band, straightforward rockers with occasional pop hooks; "No Matter What" was the semi-hit single, but "Without You" is the one I recall, more likely from Harry Nilsson's cover than from Mariah Carey's, but I could have heard it here; interesting that the bonus tracks (mostly demos) sound so much fresher than the studio tracks. B [R]

Badfinger: Straight Up (1971 [2010], Capitol): Charted about as well as No Dice, with the group's last two top-20 singles -- "Day After Day" and "Baby Blue" (I don't remember them either and worse, didn't recognize them); the Beatles shine has mostly washed off, leaving them more ordinary than ever. B- [R]

Badfinger: Ass (1972-73 [2010], Capitol): Last album on Apple, starts with a kiss-off called "Apple of My Eye" ("Oh I'm sorry but it's time to move away") which had to suffice for the single; period bands in similar straits invented pub rock in England and lazy cowboy rock in LA, but here all you get is the quandry. C+ [R]

Mary Hopkin: Post Card (1969 [2010], Capitol): Paul McCartney's first label find, a Welsh folkie who found an inevitable hit in Gene Raskin's Russian-derived "Those Were the Days" among a passel of covers ranging from Irving Berlin to Donovan to Welsh folk songs; love the hit, but these days what it reminds me of is Norman Finkelstein closing his documentary remembering it as more timeless than it was. B [R]

Mary Hopkin: Earth Song / Ocean Song (1971 [2010], Capitol): Her sophomore effort has less obvious covers which she handles with greater assurance and aplomb, over simple folkie arrangements, sort of a cross between Cat Stevens (who she covers) and Joni Mitchell (who she sometimes sounds like); also her last album for Apple, practically the end of her career at age 21. B+(*) [R]

Jackie Lomax: Is This What You Want? (1969 [2010], Capitol): English singer-songwriter, considered a soul man because he over-emotes as if that's what makes Joe Cocker (let alone Otis Redding) one; missed one wave after another until old chum George Harrison produced this album, with three Beatles, Eric Clapton, Nicky Hopkins, and Klaus Voorman in the ordinary-sounding band. C [R]

The Modern Jazz Quartet: Under the Jasmin Tree/Space (1967-69 [2010], Capitol): Apple records only foray into jazz was to release these two short LPs which now fit smartly onto a single disc; MJQ played elegant chamber bebop, Milt Jackson vibes swinging over John Lewis piano, nothing to distinguish this from their other records except a little more jangle in the rhythm section. B [R]

Billy Preston: That's the Way God Planned It (1969 [2010], Capitol): Flamboyant funk/gospel keyboard player, played with the Beatles on Abbey Road and Let It Be and with the Stones on Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main St. and plenty more -- King Curtis to Stephen Stills to Aretha Franklin to Barbra Streisand to Joe Cocker to Quincy Jones to Peter Frampton, with close to 30 albums under his own name; useful guy, but reminds you of people who are clearly better, and doesn't produce enough songs where his weaknesses don't matter -- "What About You" is one. B+(*) [R]

Billy Preston: Encouraging Words (1970 [2010], Capitol): He couldn't resist getting first crack at George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord" even though he's totally inappropriate for it -- got a hit single nonetheless, but it drags down the middle of what is otherwise a good-natured funk album. B [R]

Keith Richards: Vintage Vinos (1988-92 [2010], Mindless): Draws from his 1988 and 1992 solo albums, with a few cuts from a 1991 live set, slapped together to coast in the wake of his autobiography; the original stuff wasn't good enough for even a substandard lackadaisical Rolling Stones album, and the Stones songs from the live set have been played by a better band. B- [R]

Elliott Smith: An Introduction to Elliott Smith (1994-2003 [2010], Kill Rock Stars): Singer-songwriter, developed a small cult following in the 1990s, surrendered to depression and drugs, was working on a lousy comeback album when he was stabbed in the chest, a probable suicide -- a career arc which brings up parallels with English folkie Nick Drake; this slices up seven albums, some of which seemed promising at the time, without finding a single indelible track, so maybe he is, indeed, best forgotten. B [R]

John Tavener: The Whale/Celtic Requiem (1970-71 [2010], Capitol): British composer, filed under classical but Apple released his first two LPs, short enough they fit on one disc here; The Whale starts with an anatomy lecture before the music overwhelms it, turning churchly with the Requiem, too much moaning, or worse in a cut called "The Vomiting"; not, uh, my kind of thing. C- [R]

Doris Troy (1970, Capitol): Co-wrote and recorded one of the best hit singles of 1963, "Just One Look," a one-shot that got her this one-shot album (and in 1972-74 two more on Polydor); nothing miraculous here, just a strong, confident soul singer, and a studio band that's long on guitar and short on horns; the bonus cuts hold up fine. B+(**) [R]

Just One Look: The Best of Doris Troy (1963-65 [1994], Ichiban/Soul Classics): The hit is all you really need and you can get it on lots of compilation -- if you're catching up (which if you were born after 1965 you almost by definition are) Rhino's The R&B Box: 30 Years of Rhythm and Blues is as good a place to start as any -- but this adds pretty much everything she cut for Atlantic until the label dumped her in favor of Aretha Franklin, pretty tough competition; everything here is solid and down to earth -- more so than most of the regional obscurities that are routinely hailed as finds today. B+(**)

Yes We Can: Songs About Leaving Africa (2010, Out Here): Don't know when these pieces were recorded, but the preponderence of rap suggests that they are recent, tales of hope and fear in an African diaspora driven not by slavery but by the quest for freedom; the one name I recognize is Somali-Canadian rapper K'Naan, who sets a fine standard. A- [R]

Legend: B+ records are divided into three levels, where more * is better. [R] indicates record was reviewed using a stream from Rhapsody. The biggest caveat there is that the packaging and documentation hasn't been inspected or considered, and documentation is especially important for reissues. But also my exposure to streamed records is briefer and more limited, so I'm more prone to snap judgments.

For this column and the previous 79, see the archive.

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Copyright © 2010 Tom Hull.